The sun rises again on Anfield for another day, and still no resolution to the ownership saga that’s been played out in the press for some time, in particular in the past couple of weeks. Every time we think we’ve got a breakthrough, a denial seems to be issued officially or otherwise and we are back where we started.
There are now so many versions of what is going on that it’s becoming extremely difficult to actually what really is going on. If you went straight to each of the three parties involved you’d get different answers. Newspapers reporting in good faith what their sources have told them are contradicting each other.
George Gillett has reportedly been offered a potential £80m profit to go now. Tom Hicks’ position seems now to be that he would accept DIC buying 49% of the club, with him buying a further 1%, thus seeing Gillett out of the club and Hicks getting control. That was considered to be his minimum requirement for some time, that whoever came in had to accept Hicks would be the majority shareholder, and Hicks would block any offers that didn’t allow this to happen. DIC were exploring the legal avenues to this, according to earlier reports, but now are said to be willing to accept the chance to buy the 49% maximum.
That now seems to be the key elements of what is happening. Various denials are being issued unofficially but the aggregate score seems to be an agreement between Hicks and DIC that a 51-49 split in Hicks favour would be acceptable in principle. What remains now is for Hicks and DIC to agree how their working relationship would pan out, any clauses to be added or taken away from any agreements, and the nitty gritty of whether a new holding company would be set up or if Kop Football would remain. The banks also need to agree to whatever steps are taken with regards the finance. And then there’s just one more sticking point, the one that should arguably be the shortest hurdle to face – the shortest man has to accept the bid.
Publicly George Gillett has given up on Liverpool FC. He’s no longer interested in how the club does. He wants to take his money and run having failed in his supposed plan of having a football club for his son to help run after he’s retired. Foster Gillett went back to Montreal some time ago, abandoning his post at the club, reportedly glad to get out of a city he and his wife didn’t like living in.
Gillett has supposedly still not accepted the potential £80m profit on offer. He arrived at Anfield 13 months ago, and the amount of work he’s put in since is hardly noticeable. If anything it’s noticeable for the mess it’s made of the club.
He promised Rafa would be backed in the transfer market and announced he had agreed a plan with the manager. He promised “Snoogy Doogy”, if Rafa wanted him, just before the Champions League final in May, tackily waving various pieces of paper currency around to emphasise his point. Rafa was angered by this childish stunt – there was a lot of talk and little action. Why was he being held up in getting the players that had been agreed with Gillett in “the plan”? As it turned out, Gillett was promising something that wouldn’t be delivered and “the plan” soon had to be amended. But whilst waiting to be told he’d have to lower his sights, Rafa’s anger saw him publicly say that things need to change at the club. According to strong whispers at the time, “the owners” were angry enough themselves to consider sacking him there and then. None of the whispers specified which owner it was, or if it was both owners, but after being strongly advised that the timing would result in a furious backlash they held back. The original thoughts over which owner was pushing to get Rafa’s head on a plate were all pointing at Tom Hicks, but now there is a strong feeling that Gillett was as strong – if not stronger – in his urge to see Rafa gone.
Most of this season went on without an appearance from Gillett at the club or at games at all, until he arrived in Europe in December to watch the Reds beat Marseille. There’s a suggestion, in hindsight, that he’d gone to that game so that he could start the process of sacking Rafa Benítez. Talks had already taken place with Jurgen Klinsmann by then, although it isn’t yet clear if he’d made a decision on whether to accept the offer. Liverpool had lost against Reading a few days earlier after Rafa had withdrawn key players at 2-1 down, knowing his future depending on the Marseille game that followed. It was the first defeat of the season, and came because Rafa was concentrating on the Champions League and keeping his job. Before the Reading defeat Liverpool had won five games in a row, scoring 21 goals, conceding just one and were unbeaten in the league. But Rafa already knew that Gillett was heading for Marseille. Hicks was only to arrive in Europe later in the week, to watch the Manchester United game and meet with Rafa for the long-awaited discussion planned to follow on from the “concentrating” press conference.
Why else did Gillett choose to go to the Marseille game alone? Was he not in unison with Hicks any more? Was he letting Hicks be the public bad guy (after all he never spoke about the Rafa issue in public after it started to hit the headlines) whilst he was the real driver of the efforts to get Rafa out? Maybe we’ll find out for sure one day, but given his current stance, the good of the club is low down George Gillett’s priorities.
There’s time yet for George to get off his sick bed and accept the deal, because reports now suggest a meeting in London is set for Monday between representatives of the Hicks family and DIC. The meeting is intended to allow the potential new partners to work out details of their working relationship. DIC are hardly likely to pump £200m plus into a deal and let somebody else have all the say. Some compromises must have been made at least verbally.
Hicks is due back at the spring training camp for his Texas Ranger baseball team today and no doubt the local press there will be desperate to see what they can find out about Hicks’ plans, because of course the possibility of a sale of part of his overall Sports empire hasn’t been ruled out yet. If the deal to join forces with DIC does come off, the need for that sale would be less urgent, but would not necessarily go away. So expect another perspective on the situation this afternoon UK time.
The current finance package has 16 months to run and if it isn’t replaced to coincide with Gillett selling out it will be in need of changing before the end of spring next year. Some reports have suggested that Gillett’s financial issues were the main reason that finance took so long to secure, and following this along it seems clear that a Hicks-DIC alliance would be capable of attracting far-better finance deals than the Hicks-Gillett partnership. However some commentators believe that DIC see this as their opportunity to get more than 49% at a later date, feeling they can make it difficult for Hicks to get new finance so that he’s forced to sell part of his stake. That’s clearly an opinion as opposed to anything that has genuinely come from the DIC camp.
The Hicks camp are supremely confident of not only being able to get the club through the forthcoming period as the new stadium goes from drawings to reality, but to making the club seriously successful. That’s not just in money terms either; they make it quite clear that they see success on the field as a part of their plans for the club’s future.
The idea of Hicks taking 100% of the club appals the majority of the supporters. Confidentiality means that many of the negative events of the past year have been attributed jointly to both owners, and with Gillett cleverly deciding to keep quiet whenever something bad had to be said, Hicks has been painted as by far the worst of the two. He’s certainly not seen as any better than Gillett, and with the Klinsmann talks taking place at his holiday home, around the time he was publicly giving Rafa a dressing down, he’s just as unwelcome as Gillett.
But the idea of DIC taking over is just as appalling to another large group of fans. That group is far smaller, and far less vocal, but is still concerned that DIC may be no better for the club than Hicks and Gillett.
In reality we don’t know how the future will pan out under either DIC or Hicks, whether alone or in partnership. DIC could be worse than expected, Hicks better than expected. Certainly Hicks has a lot of work to do to convince most fans that he’s not going to leave the club on the brink of serious failure.
In fact neither DIC nor Hicks have publicly revealed what they would do as single owners of the club in terms of funding. Nor is it known how exactly the funding plans could be carried out under 51-49 split ownership. There’s a danger of assuming the worst from what Hicks could offer yet assuming the best from what DIC could offer, and that is quite a huge gap.
Protests show the current owners and also DIC that Liverpool fans will never be so trusting again, ever, and so are extremely important. DIC need to be sure their plans won’t see them protested at in such a way, their reputation is important to them and they don’t want it damaging through TV images shown across the world. Their plans better be good. It also reminds Tom Hicks that his new plans really have to be good if he’s to ever start winning the fans over. If he wins the battle, he’s got to get things moving as quickly as possible, announcing with honesty what it is he intends to do. Protests against Newcastle might just ensure that DIC and Hicks really are confident they can deliver.
Hicks has a massive uphill battle to win fans back, far more daunting than half-time in Istanbul , and may find it an impossible task. All fans are going to make their own minds up, but before we can get to any new stage in ownership we need to see George Gillett accept the reported massive bid, and get out of our club. Why’s he still here? He has no love for the club, no wish to help the club through difficult times.
So go George, go, and let us move on.